Can making board exam optional work?


For thousands of school children across the country, the announcement of making the Class X board examination optional by HRD minister Kapil Sibal brought a wave of joy and relief.

Quite understandably, since board examinations have become a ubiquitous fear factor and by far the most dreaded school routine. For years now, marks and percentages have turned out to be a branding exercise and a status symbol rather than a simple performance rating. Blame it on increasing competition, unrealistic parental ambition or market demands, there is no denying that stress among students is palpable. Sadly, many unable to bear have only added to the growing suicide statistics.

Presently only NCERT, which overlooks CBSE schools, plans to selectively do away with the 10th board examination from 2010. The ICSE and various state boards do not seem to have any such immediate student-friendly plans. CBSE students make only a small percentage; others from the ICSE and various state boards put together who form a vast majority will continue to face the examination demon and the pressure that accompanies it.

At the same time, this exclusivity will put the CBSE student too in a quagmire. Those who intend pursuing further studies will be forced to continue in the same scheme, restricting their mobility to other state boards. Very often the switch over is sought by students unable to cope with rigorous CBSE curriculum. They would either have to appear for the X board exam or face the pressure of the course they find tough to follow.

Further, many of the elite CBSE schools offer only science streams, students keen on taking up ‘less prestigious’ subjects will find themselves in a quandary. Therefore, as long as it is not uniformly applied to all boards across the country, this ‘clinical trial’ is bound to have a cascading effect over a large section of students.

Conversely, even if the move to stamp out the 10th board examination is accepted throughout the country as the HRD ministry envisions, will that serve as a viable proposition in the given circumstances? Making 10th examination internal is fraught with multiple problems. Despite increased focus, several educational initiatives, and policy decisions, quality of our school education continues to be abysmal, especially in rural belts and government schools.

Neither are our schools ready just yet for internal assessment as a criterion, nor will that carry a stamp of authenticity if used. In the absence of a school leaving board examination quality will further deteriorate, creating a wider knowledge gap.

Therefore, regardless of the choice that students can now make, many will continue to face pressure to opt for the 10th board examination from parents, teachers and also from within, since the perception that it would provide wider access to higher education, lucrative career and upward mobility will persist.

In all probability, it will be the slow learners, economically weaker, and first generation students who will largely choose to opt out. This will certainly have far reaching adverse effect on the literacy level of our country.

Marginalisation

Notwithstanding the pressure, passing the X board exam gives a label of respectability, elevates one to a status of a ‘literate’ and holds promise for a ‘brighter’ future. This one certification alone happens to be an all important achievement for millions. Very often poor parents stake their all to ensure this credential for their children. Since, education is one of the most effective social levellers, opting out will further marginalise them.

To blame the board examination per se for high stress is untenable. In reality, it is the unsavory factors surrounding exams that need to be addressed. It cannot be emphasised enough that reforms in examination is a crying need. One time assessment needs to be replaced by periodical evaluation, practical marks in all subjects and credits for other curricular and extra curricular activities.

Most importantly, to alleviate academic stress our education delivery system in schools must improve. We need healthier learning environment, trained and sensitive teachers, feasible student-teacher ratio, better infrastructure, regular monitoring, and better administration.

There’s need for a uniform pattern of schooling while different boards continue to retain curricular autonomy. Perhaps the way the 10th board is being made into a single qualifier for most academic and career options needs a re-look. HRD minister’s focus on school reforms is certainly a step forward and timely. However, it would require a concerted effort, dogged commitment and political craftsmanship to implement them across the country.

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